Family Photo

Family Photo
Growing Up

Monday, October 10, 2016

Back to Boston

My apologies for not posting - I've been re-tracing family history in Boston. Our first day in the city united Aden and me with my brothers, niece and a subset of nephews. We walked the Freedom Trail from the Common to Quincy Market, where the boys breakfasted on blue slushies and the girls split a caramel candy apple with sprinkles.

After a quick descent through the North End and ascending Beacon Hill, the boys raced scooters and the older people strolled down the sunny Esplanade, wiping away the Indian summer sweat. At length, brother Michael and his boys turned back toward the Common and the girls, John and I walked across the Mass Ave Bridge to Cambridge. The girls took in the pillars of MIT and then the leafy splendor of the Harvard Yard, marred as always by renovation and ‘keep off the grass’ signs. I showed them my freshman dorm, where I spent many an early morning sobbing in lengthy showers, hiding my homesickness in a haze of communal steam.

We had frozen yogurt at a quiet table in front of Lehman Hall where tour groups flooded the spaces around us and a young couple spoke French at an adjoining table. The stores and technologies have changed – almost completely – in the twenty- three years since I lived in a Cambridge dorm. The girls declined our invitation to purchase Harvard gear as I told them to seek college admittance elsewhere.

Saturday night reunited us with two of my college roommates and their families at the beach house in Scituate. The ghosts of dinners past entered with Tara’s parents, who made a brief journey from their home down the road to look in on the girls they welcomed and fed on long-weekend Sundays and holidays.The seven-layer dips we finished before the other guests could have a taste, the big dinners that sat heavily on us at swim team weigh-ins the next day, the travails of finding our way out to West Roxbury in the days before cell phones and traveling expertise - all fodder for "do you remembers?" and "I can't believe it" conversations.

Sunday morning’s alarm pierced through the shriek of wind and rain, a remnant of Hurricane Matthew that dampened the day of my niece, Mae's, baptism. The weather demanded coarse blue raincoats over the carefully packed and ironed church dresses. At the back of the church, we watched bemused as cousins drew pictures, arm-wrestled and pew-hopped through the service. Little Tommy ate his grandmother’s necklace and the priest enthusiastically led his flock in their praise of the “Lawd.”

As the full congregation filed out, we gathered around the baptismal font. Karen called my parents to Skype them through the service as the Julia and Aden snapped photos. John and I flanked Mike, Pam and the baby as her godparents. All of the 23 cousins filed through to mark Mae with the sign of the cross or a gentle kiss, which benedictions she received in squirming impatience. When Father Chris decorated Mae with cold holy water she “screamed all the demons out.”

Inconvenient emotions settled like clouds of gnats that we hastily waved away, longing to center ourselves in the moment of joy but unable to squelch the sorrow of absence and the recognition that this would be the last Boston baptism. Wild, specific tangents unsettled us: my four-year-old nephew watching the mouth of the priest as he pressed his hands together and sought anxiously to pray the Our Father correctly. My parents on Skype, sobbing quietly from a distance of 3,000 miles. 

We’re often with people we love, but rarely with all the people that we love. Each time we share a meal and memory, laughter and like-mindedness, it’s a sharp prick of miracle, which leaves the faint ache of loss as it fades. The seasons pass, we seem to shed our past selves with the rain or the wind or the tidal flux, and yet they collect inside us and refuse to flee.  

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